Returning home, embarking for the unidentified

People run along the outskirts of the Washington Monument in early morning light, Monday, June 25, 2018.

The sun splinters through trees that bask in the evening light. The air is thick and heavy — another muggy, post-rain, Georgia afternoon. With each stride, my breath deepens and my exhaustion increases. “Just a few more meters and the run is finished.” I walk around the neighborhood to cool down and allow my body to relax after the afternoon run.

The neighborhood is one I’ve known for the 14 years I’ve lived in Georgia. Since 2004, my parents and I have called our house home, and more than half of my entire life is wrapped up in the walls of it. 

Since I moved back in with my parents after two-and-a-half years of living on my own in a rented house with two of my best friends, I have struggled to grapple with the down-cast thoughts of not being a good enough child to maintain living on my own and of being “that kid that lives in their parents’ basement.”

I’ve struggled to accept that living with my parents for my final semester of college will be vastly beneficial — allowing me to save money to hopefully move to Washington D.C. upon graduation in December. I struggle with the perception of the people I know and who my parents know. Do they think I can’t provide for myself? Do they think I just freeload off my parents? Am I good enough? Do I believe I’m good enough?

I walked around our neighborhood, watching pricey Mercedes SUVs drive by and perfectly manicured lawns soaking up the last bit of light. I walked down the street my friends and I always hung out on when I was in middle and high school. 

I envisioned the backyard football games. I reminisced on the games of manhunt we played, dodging between homes to escape being found by those searching. I remembered the fear that accompanied trying a new trick on my Razor scooter. I thought of the countless sleepovers spent playing video games until the sun rose again. I tried to recall the rules of the numerous made-up games we played.

I thought of the childhood memories that were tucked so far back into my brain that I had to sit completely still in the driveway after the walk concluded to recall the time our neighbors caught a rattlesnake in their backyard and all of the surrounding neighbors congregated in the street to catch a glimpse of it. 

I tried to recall the times when my friends and I would cruise around on our BMX bikes, riding to the nearby gas station to spend our allowances on Gatorade and candy. I remembered the first relationships I experienced and how I thought at the ripe age of 14 that I had romance figured out. (As I approach 23, I know I’ll never have it figured out.)

I spent the 20 minutes after my run thinking about the last 14 years of my life. And for once, it all came back to me.

The noise of the day-to-day faded. The constant thought process of what is going on in the world and what I have to do tomorrow ceased. It all became silent. The only things I could hear were my thoughts and the soft notes of “Virile” by The Blaze bumping through my headphones.

As another car passed by the house, I thought about how much had changed over the past few years. I realized just how much this neighborhood and myself have become drastically different from what we were when I graduated high school four years ago.

I remember when I could walk around the neighborhood and know exactly who drove what car and what they did. I remember spending summer nights with friends and family throughout the neighborhood — whether it be on back porches, in swimming pools, or in driveways.

As I sit here, less than four months from graduating college, I realize just how quickly let my childhood escape my grasp. I never cherished it for what it was. I was so pressed to get here that was never there as much as I could have been. Don’t get me wrong, I had an amazing childhood and I have truly amazing memories with amazing people. I just wish I hadn’t rushed it.

So, as I grapple with questions of worthiness and whether or not those around me somehow think less of me for moving back in with my parents, I realize I have been given such a beautiful gift — the opportunity to make the most of the rest of my life. These first 22 years and 11 or so months of my life have been incredible. 

I’ve had some unbelievable opportunities that are only because of the grace and goodness of God. I have some absolutely incredible failures and awful moments also because of the grace and goodness of God. Both instances have made me who I am today. 

Here’s to the final four or so months of my “school career” and to the rest of my life. 🤙🏼

New arrivals with the dawn of a new day

The Hellenic Coast Guard (center) tows a dinghy into Skala port after picking up 20 refugees in tandem with Mo Chara (left) Sunday morning, May 13, 2018.

Crisp morning air accompanied the rising sun as we conducted training exercises with our search and rescue counterpart, Mo Chara. We were testing distances. 

1.5 nautical miles. 2 nautical miles. 2.5 nautical miles.

It was early on in our morning shift, and the crew wanted to train a bit before heading into port for the morning. The Hellenic Coast Guard sat undisturbed to our West near Molyvos. 

We wrapped up the training and asked if they wanted to do one more exercise, and they obliged. Around that time, radio chatter picked up and the HCG raced toward the East. Mo Chara sat as it tried to assess the situation before steaming East as well. 

A message came over the phone used to communicate with the coast guard, UNHCR, Mo Chara, landing team, and other actors assisting with landings. A possible dinghy was reported to the East of Tsonia, a small village on the Northeast shore of Lesvos, and more information would come. 

We immediately shifted our focus to the East and rapidly scanned for any sign of a dinghy. I used the binoculars to scan the horizon, and hoped that we could just catch a glimpse of the raft to help those en route find it faster. 

I saw the dinghy just over a ridge that obscured the coastline — bouncing with each wave as its engine had failed. We quickly told Mo Chara it sat on the 062 bearing, its compass direction, and they intercepted it. The HCG arrived soon after and loaded the refugees onto its ship, 20 in all —11 Syrians and 9 Iraqis. The dinghy held 4 women, 7 men, and 9 children.  

The landing prepared for the new arrivals in Skala’s port, ready to distribute water, cookies, and blankets. 

Parts of the cut-up dinghy sit next to two garbage bins just off of Lesvos' North shore.

Mo Chara and the HCG slowly made their way back to Skala port to transfer the refugees, dinghy in tow. Once the refugees disembarked, they were taken to Stage 2 to receive more water and a change of clothes before quickly boarding the bus to Moria.  

The entire process only took two hours. 

It was remarkable. We saw brand new refugees be intercepted, loaded onto the coast guard’s ship, and be welcomed into the port. Seeing the cohesiveness and cooperation of everyone involved was beautiful. It was surreal seeing it firsthand and oddly normal to be a part of it. 

The realization of a dinghy being in the water, the reality of human lives bobbing in the space between life and death, communicating effectively with capable humans that have a heart massive enough to help, and being one small grain of sand in a sand castle that is fortified by countless other actions and people who make this all work out somehow has become normal. I don't understand why.

I don't mean that in such a manner that brings glory to myself or the other volunteers here. I mean that as an allusion to how normal being on Lesvos and working with refugees has become for me and so many other people.

I wish it didn't feel normal — that would mean the crisis is over.

Connecting the past and present: A feeling of betrayal in a temporary environment

We often use the past to connect with the present. I find myself doing this far too often. Whether it deals with connecting past journalistic experiences or my time in Greece one year ago, it is inevitable to utilize how we have interacted in the past to help guide our actions in the present. That whole “learning from your experiences” thing.

A rolled-up dinghy sits behind a grove of trees on a hiking trail near Skala Sikamineas.

Engaging in this type of behavior is treacherous this time around. As I mentioned in my last story, Stage 2 is a temporary camp for new arrivals before the head to Moria — the main camp on the island. They typically stay at Stage 2 for a very short amount of time. 

Knowing the new arrivals would be heading to Moria has been a dramatically heart-wrenching experience for me. I can’t tell them where they’re about to go to is good, and I can’t tell them it’s awful. Either their expectations will be shattered or their hearts will sink knowing their conditions won’t get much better after paying an inordinate amount of money to leave similar conditions just across the Aegean. 

I spent the afternoon at Stage 2 on Thursday with about 30 new arrivals from Eritrea and Kurdish Iraq. They had arrived early that morning and were waiting for the bus to take them to Moria. We confirmed it would arrive around 12:45 p.m., and we began to tell the refugees so they could collect their things and be ready to go. 

This was the first time I had seen new arrivals board the bus for Moria, and I secretly hoped I would never have to experience it. My heart was in my throat as the bus arrived and the refugees began to line up at the entrance to Stage 2. I was tasked with only letting seven people through at a time and making sure their bags were loaded. 

The entire process took about 10 minutes, and before I knew it, everyone was on board and set to go to Moria. I stood at the entrance with another volunteer as our coordinator, Frontex representatives and some other officials spoke. 

As we stood there, a family — a father, mother, and a 2-year-old boy — sat at the very front of the bus. We had spent a short amount of time with them at Stage 2, playing with the child and talking with the mother. The father mentioned for his son to wave to us, and with the biggest grin, he waved vehemently before the bus swung out of the gravel lot. 

We, of course, waved back, but as I waved, I couldn’t help but feel awful. I knew what they were headed to. I knew that their family may be split up as the father stayed in Moria and the mother and son stayed at Kara Tepe camp. I couldn’t help but think about the miserable conditions they were headed to and the drastically long road that lay ahead of them. 

I felt as though I had betrayed them.

I stood waving with a smile as they headed down a hour-long road to an uncertain future. Would they face violence? Would they ever see an asylum interview? Would they even have a chance?

Stage 2 is an excellent reprieve for new arrivals after having just faced death by courageously crossing the Aegean in a dinghy that very well may have holes a minimal amount of gas for the engine. It is an oasis after experiencing the many horrors that present themselves in the Turkish camps. But it is so temporary. As is my time here and the impact I may have. 

Even though it doesn’t seem this way at all, may the crisis be the just the same: temporary.

A night at Stage 2

A small church in the Skala Sikamineas harbor

Coming to Skala Sikamineas, I did not think I would be interacting directly with refugees or in a refugee camp as I did one year ago. I figured that I would only interact briefly with refugees while assisting a landing or helping them in the refugee transit camp called “Stage 2” in Skala. I was incorrect.

I spent my fifth night in Stage 2 with another volunteer, being a presence in case anyone needed a blanket or had an emergency. This is not typical.

Usually, refugees stay in Stage 2 for no more than 24 hours. Here, the receive dry clothes, shoes, water, tea and sometimes a meal depending on the time of day. Sometimes they stay the night, but that’s only if the bus that will take them to Moria, the main camp on the island, doesn’t arrive until the morning.

In the case we had this week, a landing occurred in the northwest part of the island, Efthalou, that was carrying around 35 people. They were transported to Stage 2 where another group of around 80 new arrivals from the south shore of Lesvos were also being transported. The group of around 115 refugees stayed for three nights.

The bus coming depends on the day, the capacity of Moria and the overall feeling of the Greek police/coast guard. For reasons no one could really make sense of, the bus wasn’t going to come for a while. We were told “tomorrow” three times, and finally, Wednesday morning it arrived. 

I write all of this to set the scene for two awe-striking moments in the same single night. My overnight shift was my second time volunteering in Stage 2, and many of the refugees remembered us. We had made friends, played volleyball and soccer, and chatted with a number of them. We arrived Tuesday night at 10 p.m.

As we were running around trying to ensure everyone was taken care of and had what they needed, a group of young men was standing together, and we decided to join them. Everyone introduced themselves by answering the three basic questions: What’s your name, where are you from, and how old are you?

As we went around the circle, we realized we had seven entirely different nationalities: An Iranian, a Kuwaiti, and Iraqi, a Somali, an Italian, and an American. Each of us either spoke different or multiple languages, and our communication, while at times disjointed, appeared to be a beautiful symphony of culture and unity. 

Each of us had massive smiles on our faces as we realized how many different people were in this one, small circle, and it gave me tremendous warmth in my heart. How astounding it is to be surrounded by people from countries you may never visit and places you may have a stereotypical understanding of only to have that stereotype abolished. 

We chatted for a while, and we continued our work — handing out a few more blankets and jackets as everyone headed to sleep. We stayed up until 2 a.m. talking with two Kuwaiti boys — a 16 and a 15-year-old.

We headed for the distribution tent that held our two, thin sleeping pads and multiple UNHCR blankets. We prepared our beds and tried to sleep the best we could, knowing the morning bus situation was uncertain.

As I lay on the floor trying to sleep, I again realized that we were sharing in such a minuscule experience with those at Stage 2. We didn’t have comfy beds or a private room to get quality, rejuvenating sleep. We slept on the floor of a dusty, hard tent just as everyone else did.

That experience enhanced my perspective of the refugee crisis. People don’t even begin to minutely understand the situation until they are there. I believe that goes for anything. For me, sleeping just as everyone else did that night gave me just the tiniest of views into the experience they have.

I am in no way trying to say I understand their situation and get it now. I will probably never be able to say that, and I hope no one else is able to becuase it is a horrible crisis. All I’m saying is that experiences like that open us up to address our own issues, sterotypes, and perspectives that probably need to change. I would hope all of us would welcome instances like those — of perspective and life change.

CIO resigns, audit finds timekeeping issues, negative work environment

By Cory Hancock

This article was published in the March 13, 2018 issue of The Sentinel.

Lectra Lawhorne’s resignation from her position as Kennesaw State’s Chief Information Officer was announced Friday, March 9, after she was placed on administrative leave Feb. 2.

The announcement came in an email Friday to faculty and staff from KSU Interim President Ken Harmon. He announced that Jeff Delaney, who has been serving as acting CIO, will take over as interim CIO. According to an article by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Lawhorne’s attorney Clifford Weiss said she resigned due to serious health issues and that the university nor her client did anything wrong.

“I have asked KSU Office of Human Resources to begin the search process for a new CIO immediately,” the email said.

According to the redacted documents given to The Sentinel by the university, Lawhorne’s resignation letter was sent to Harmon on March 2 and will go into effect April 30. Information as to the reasoning for her resignation was redacted from her letter.

In a letter from the university’s internal audit department, KSU received a complaint on Jan. 16 regarding a timekeeping issue as well as a negative work environment within University Information Technology Services.

It outlined that an unnamed executive director had an issue that prevented them from leading staff meetings and caused them to miss work for six to eight weeks during the university’s transition to Office 365, a project outlined as “significant” in the audit.

“Our investigation found that Ms. Lawhorne was aware that the ED had an (redacted information) problem. On some occasions, when the ED was (redacted information), Ms. Lawhorne allowed the ED to remain in the office,” the audit said. “On other occasions, the ED was absent from work — including the month of March 2017 — and Ms. Lawhorne failed to ensure that the ED’s time off was properly recorded.”

The audit also said Lawhorne knew the executive director had been convicted of a DUI and did not comply with university policy by failing to report it to the Division of Human Resources. The letter states that the DUI contributed to the executive director’s time away from work, and, in that time, Lawhorne assigned their duties to other employees. The executive director conducted community service as a result of the DUI.

“It appears as though the ED’s issues (redacted information) were clear and apparent to most UITS employees, including Ms. Lawhorne,” the letter states.

The internal audit department interviewed Lawhorne twice over the course of their investigation. According to the letter, Lawhorne said timecard approval authority was delegated to her executive assistant and that the executive director should work with the assistant to properly record their time off. The assistant said she was told by Lawhorne that human resources would take care of the executive director’s timecard while they were on leave. Lawhorne denies that she said that to the assistant, according to the letter.

A UITS employee who handles human resource matters and two human resources employees at KSU said they were not asked by Lawhorne or the executive director to file Family Medical Leave Act paperwork or to record the executive director’s time off during March 2017. Lawhorne said she asked the executive director to record time off while out of the office.

The letter said Lawhorne’s two interviews contradicted each other, as well as statements by UITS employees, on matters of the executive director’s time off and the amount of time missed.

“As previously mentioned, there was no vacation, sick or medical leave time recorded for the ED for March 2017,” the letter said. “Additionally, the ED’s timecards are not reflective of the time spent away from the office performing community service.”

Building card access logs, emails indicating the executive director was on leave through March 24 and minutes from meetings pertaining to the O365 projects were some factors indicating the executive director missed significant time in March 2017.

According to a payroll reviewed by the internal audit department, the executive director was being paid a monthly stipend of $750 in addition to their normal salary to work on University System of Georgia projects between March and July 2017. UITS employees interviewed in the investigation said the executive director was not participating in USG projects at that time.

In the interviews, Lawhorne confirmed that timekeeping approval was her responsibility and that the executive director should not have been receiving the stipend during that time.

The audit also found that Lawhorne had a negative effect on her employees’ work environment due to the way she treated them. It said employees that noticed the behavior of the executive director did not bring it to the attention of those outside of UITS because they thought she was handling it or they feared retaliation from Lawhorne.

“For example, one employee shared an experience where the aforementioned ED and Ms. Lawhorne set him up to make a mistake in a meeting, and Ms. Lawhorne went on to berate this employee in front of everyone attending the meeting, which we confirmed with multiple employees who witnessed the incident,” the letter said. “Afterwards, the ED told the employee he was set up because Ms. Lawhorne wanted to ‘make an example out of him.’”

Employees interviewed during the investigation described being bullied, berated and yelled at by Lawhorne. They said they “spend 80% of [their] time trying to figure out how to not make Lectra angry.”

Another example given was when an employee was attending a funeral, and Lawhorne called them to revise an organizational chart. After reminding Lawhorne they were at a funeral, Lawhorne persisted, and the employee left the funeral to complete the task. When the employee returned to campus that following Monday, Lawhorne instructed the employee to redo the chart again, which, according to the letter, implies that the task did not need to be done that previous Friday.

“Based on the interviews conducted, it does not appear that Ms. Lawhorne treats her employees in a manner consistent with the USG’s core values,” the letter said. “Taken all together, these violations demonstrate a failure of effective and ethical leadership by Ms. Lawhorne.”

In a memo sent from Lawhorne to Harmon and Andrew Newton, KSU’s chief legal affairs officer, she denied having hired or attempted to hire a convicted felon, having knowledge that an employee was falsifying time records, contributing to a negative work environment and that an affair with a subordinate was occurring.

The executive director was on leave under the FMLA over the course of the university’s investigation, and, as a result, was not interviewed for the audit. The executive director and Lawhorne had worked together for approximately 20 years.